Groomsman Dies in Crash on Way to Wedding Reception a Day After His 20th Birthday: 'Rest Easy, Cowboy'

chance karnes

Facebook Chance Karnes

An Illinois wedding celebration ended in tragedy after a car crash claimed the life of a groomsman just one day after his 20th birthday.

Chance Karnes was on the way to the reception on Saturday afternoon with several members of the wedding party — including the bride and groom, as well as his girlfriend — when their car was struck, according to ABC station WSIL-TV, which reported he was the groom's best man.

"One of the best days turned into our worst nightmare," his girlfriend, Destiny Gillihan, wrote on social media the following day. "It will never seem real. I'll miss you forever and ever."

The crash occurred around 5:15 p.m. on Illinois Route 3 when a Ford Bronco driven by Ryne Fithian, identified by loved ones as the groom, was hit by a Chevrolet Truck, according to a statement from the Illinois State Police. Karnes, who was ejected from the vehicle, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Ryne, 25, as well as two other passengers — bride Allison Flynn, 22, as well as Gillihan, 20 — were taken to a local hospital with "non-life-threatening injuries," police said.

The driver of the Chevrolet Truck was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

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Karnes was remembered by loved ones as having a passion for football, family and horses.

"Chance was an old soul who loved horses, horses, and more horses," his mother, Brandi Karnes, told WSIL-TV in a statement, sharing that he grew up attending — and winning — competitions around the country and began learning how to train horses by the age of 15.

"We kind of thought it was a phase he would grow out of but he just never did," his mom told the outlet.

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While in high school, Karnes — who graduated in 2020 — found success as a quarterback for Herrin High School, on a team that his father coached, according to the Southern Illinoisan.

"We knew him as our student; he was a friend, a teammate, a cowboy, and an adventurer. We grieve for the young man and his family," the school wrote in a tribute.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by his younger sister Presli, who will graduate from HHS this month, per the Southern Illinoisan.

Alongside a shot of Karnes winning first place at a competition, the Ranch Sorting National Championship mourned the "tragic loss of a great cowboy."

"The Ranch Sorting community is blessed to have gotten to know Chance. He, and his contagious smile will be greatly missed," they wrote.

Additionally, they shared a link to a shop from Karnes' hometown that is selling apparel with his brand, with proceeds going towards funeral arrangements.

"We think this is a great way to keep his legacy alive," they wrote. "But above all else, please pray for all involved in the accident, and all of his loved one's. Rest easy cowboy."

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A GoFundMe page has also been created to help Ryne and Allie, the newlyweds who were injured in Saturday's crash.

"Allie is a smart, horse-loving, beautiful girl who got married to the love of her life, Ryne," reads a message on the fundraising page for the couple, who share a small farm.

As a result of the crash, the organizer shared that Ryne "may not be able to work for at least 3 months," while Allie is "currently in the Intensive Care Unit battling her injuries."

Ryne suffered a broken arm while Allie broke several bones, including in her skull and vertebrae, Ryne's father told the Belleville News-Democrat. He added that as of Wednesday, she was able to open her eyes and speak and no longer needed a breathing tube.

"She is amazing, I could not be prouder to have her as a daughter-in-law," he told the paper.

In one of her own tributes to her late boyfriend, Karnes' girlfriend asked for her loved ones to "please continue to pray" for the injured couple.

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A funeral for Karnes will be held this coming weekend on the Herrin High School football field, according to his obituary. Additionally, the family will use any donations made in their son's name to Herrin Education Foundation to create a vocational scholarship.

"Chance always said, 'Live like there is no tomorrow.' And I think he certainly did," his mom Brandi said, according to the Southern Illinoisan.

"He's in the best ranch you could be right now," dad Jason told WSIL-TV.